June 8, 2018 by bradcharlesbeals
It was on a weekday autumn afternoon in 1993 that my conversion to Christianity began. I was selling insurance then. Not very well and not at all happily. Earlier that day I had rushed through my morning calls and paperwork and then escaped the office at the first chance. I know this 25 years later because that’s what I did every day during that fall. I escaped.
My usual hangout when I played hooky was the bookstore, any bookstore. But on this day, I chose the McFarlen Public Library. It was a comfortable place for me. I used to go there as a kid, studied there once or twice in high school when the fit for studying was on me. I even used it to cram for a real estate license test (failed), and a private pilot ground school exam (passed). I knew its tables and niches well.
But on this day I didn’t sit. I was restless. I walked the aisles aimlessly and pulled books – mostly from the fiction shelves – and read covers and random lines and put them back. But at some point in my wandering, I passed one of those wire spinning racks and a book there caught my eye (I’m colorblind, and the color blue more than any other tends to catch my eye). I reached for it. I read the back cover. I opened it and read a few lines, then a few pages, and then, inexplicably, I checked it out.
It was titled Out of the Blue. It was a memoir by Orel Hershiser, a now retired MLB pitcher. What made the choice inexplicable was that I had not opened a sports book since the age of ten, had never read a sports memoir, and since that painful summer between 8th and 9th grade when I spent an entire season in right field, had not given the sport of baseball a single thought, at least not an affectionate one.
But as it turned out this book would be one I couldn’t put down. I started it the minute I got home. I stopped to eat, I stopped to sleep, and the next morning I picked it up and read it through to the end. And yes, I was aware at the time that I was reading about my least favorite sport. I read about the art of pitching and about the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 1988 season and about one humble man’s part in it. Granted it was a huge part. Hershiser won 23 games that year (that’s a LOT) and set a new record of 58 scoreless innings. He took a mediocre team (he and a guy named Kirk Gibson) all the way to the top of the baseball world. So yes, it was about baseball, but that’s not what kept the pages turning.
I read Out of the Blue cover because the author had mentioned God on the back jacket, and when I read that, something inside of me answered. Not an epiphany, not anything loud, just a faint, wondering, hmmm. That was it. I had never read anything about God before that. I knew the Sunday school stories and the basics of the gospel, but to bring those things into something as immediate and worldly as baseball was to me on this particular afternoon, both weird and strangely intriguing.
I don’t remember much about the book (I even had to look up those stats for this post), but I do remember this: that before I picked it up (and I’m including the very minute before I picked it up) I did not give God a thought, but by the time I was a chapter in, my desire to know God was on, and it was unlike any desire I’d ever known.
And so I began what would become over the next year or so a non-stop, things-of-God reading binge. I devoured my parents’ library, and then began playing hooky in Christian bookstores (I’d seen them before. In the malls. They had always seemed strange places to me, otherworldly. Before the year was out I would be managing one myself). And at some point during all of this I began to call out to God because for weeks and months at a time I could hold no other thought in my head but that there was a God and I wanted to know him.
The next year was rough, but God proved his words in James 4 to be true. I drew near to Him, and he drew near to me.
But even my drawing near to him was his work. It was all his work.
I say that picking up this book began my conversion, but I should qualify that. In John chapter 3, Jesus says to Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” By this we understand that conversion is a work of the Spirit and that my regeneration (that point at which my new life begins) precedes faith. In other words, we are made alive by the Holy Spirit and then we enter the kingdom of God. We are given sight, and then we see.
And yet from our perspective we can often point to a time when a searching begins, when an interest in the things of God emerges. This searching – if it leads to Christ, if it’s what we call “effectual” – is a calling from God. It may precede regeneration, as I believe it did with me, or it may coincide with it as it does with many who hear the gospel and respond in faith right then.
So while it would be wrong to say that Hershiser’s book convicted me or compelled me or drew me to God, it would be very right to say that God worked through it, that he used Out of the Blue as a very clear beginning of that effectual call and as the first step in a long line of steps that led me to Christ.
Paul tells the Romans to give honor to whom it is due, and part of the reason for my writing this is to do that, to say thank you to Orel Hershiser for his sincere testimony about Jesus. His clear, confident, winsome witness – powerful even in the context of baseball because of the One to whom he was a witness – was exactly what this sinner needed to hear.
Of course, when talking of God’s providence in building his kingdom it’s impossible to separate out the parts from the whole and assign value to each. God works all of it together for our good and His glory. And yet in his grace he does often let us see the means he uses to bring about the ends. For me, Out of the Blue was the very first means. Here are just some of the ends: I became a follower of Christ in 1994. Within two years of my own conversion my wife followed. We now have six children who love Jesus and are bearing fruit (Lord willing, they’ll continue in that and have many of their own fruit-bearing kids). And my family worships and serves in a gospel-preaching, kingdom-seeking church. What blessings! What a God we serve!
So thank you, Mr. Hershiser, for your faithful witness. God used it mightily in my life. No warning. No asking my permission. No gentle knocking at the door. God simply took hold of me, completely out of the blue, and he hasn’t let go.
By the way, I’ve also been converted to the sport of baseball. Hallelujah! Our God works all kinds of miracles!
(If anyone has an idea on how to get this to Orel Hershiser, send it my way.)